Juneteenth is signed into law as a national holiday

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Joe Biden with Opal Lee and representatives Photo credit: CNBC screenshot

Juneteenth celebrates the commemoration of freedom for African American slaves. According to the Juneteenth website, “It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future.”

The holiday stems from the day that Major General Gordan Granger of the Union and his soldiers emphasized and announced the freedom of the slaves in Galveston, Texas. This happened close to two years after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was given. Freedom was proclaimed but not honored in Texas until that first Juneteenth, June 19, 1865.

According to Granger in General Order Number 3, “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

This is the first declared national holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was established, another holiday dedicated to celebrating steps away from racism and toward equality.

In an address to the nation broadcast by CNBC, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke first, followed by President Joe Biden.

“When we establish a national holiday it makes an important statement,” Harris said. “These are days when we as a nation have decided to stop and take stock and often to acknowledge our history.”

Biden shared the story of Opal Lee who was present at the nation’s address. She grew up in Texas celebrating Juneteenth with her family. At 12 years old, according to Biden, “a white mob torched her family home.” Despite opposition, she never gave up hope.

“She’s made it her mission to see that this day came,” Biden said.

In the House of Representatives, 415 votes were in favor of signing the bill while 14 representatives were opposed.

“I’m especially pleased that we showed the nation that we can come together as democrats and republicans to commemorate this day with an overwhelming bipartisan support of the congress,” Biden said. “I hope this is a beginning of a change in the way we deal with one another.”

Both Harris and Biden applauded how far the nation has come in the effort for equality while acknowledging there is still work to be done. They recognized this establishment of a national holiday as a step in the right direction.

“We have come far and we have far to go, but today is a day of celebration,” Harris said. “It is not only a day of pride, it is also a day for us to reaffirm and rededicate ourselves to action and with that I say, happy Juneteenth, everybody.”